Cuadrilla breached conditions of its planning permission when it brought the drilling rig into its site near Blackpool early this morning, according to Lancashire County Council.
The authority said it was writing to Cuadrilla and considering what action to take after the company announced today the drilling rig had arrived at its Preston New Road site.
The planning permission, granted in October 2016 by the Communities’ Secretary, Sajid Javid, included a condition which limited lorry movements to the period 7.30am-6pm Monday to Friday, except public holidays. (Link to decision document)
DrillOrDrop understands that sections of the drilling rig were brought onto the site in containers in a convoy at about 4.15am today. A small number of campaigners outside the site at the time reported they were surrounded by police and unable to prevent the delivery.
In a statement, Lancashire County Council said:
“We’re currently investigating the vehicle movements which we understand took place overnight and are in breach of planning permission.
“We are writing to the operator requiring them to put measures in place to prevent a recurrence, as well as considering what further action to take.”
Cuadrilla’s chief executive, Francis Egan, said:
“With the recently increased, aggressive protest activity outside our site in Lancashire, directed by London based Reclaim the Power, we decided, following consultation with the Lancashire Police, to take delivery of the rig in the early daylight hours of the morning.
“This was done to avoid yet another major road blockage by protestors with the attendant prolonged inconvenience to local road users and potential impacts on commuter and protestor safety.”
The company said it fully co-operated with the Council’s investigation.
Supt Richard Robertshaw, of Lancashire Police, said in a statement:
“As a result of Cuadrilla’s decision to carry out deliveries in the early hours of this morning, a policing operation was put in place to ensure safety and to minimise disruption to the local community, particularly given recent increased protestor activity at the Preston New Road site which is still on-going.
“A contraflow has been in place on the road for the past two days due to protestors climbing on top of seven trucks, four of which were moved on successfully during this morning’s operation. Police are still currently dealing with the other three.
“Our aim as always is to ensure is a consistent and coordinated policing response and ensure a balance between the rights of people to peacefully protest, together with the rights of the wider public, including local businesses, to go about their lawful activities.
“We aim to prevent, where possible, crime and disorder, but if it does occur we will provide an effective, lawful and proportionate response.”
An opponent of Cuadrilla’s activities said:
“We do feel that this will strengthen our fight because they have gone out of the permitted hours.”
See also reaction at the end of this post.
First UK horizontal shale gas wells
In a statement this morning, the company said the rig would be used on the first two horizontal shale gas wells to be drilled in the UK.
Mr Egan, said:
“We are very pleased to have taken delivery of the drilling rig to our shale gas exploration site.
“The drilling of the first horizontal exploration wells into UK shale rock will be an important milestone in unlocking a vital new source of natural gas for the country.
“With the decline of North Sea gas and our ever increasing reliance on gas imports, including shale gas imported from the US, developing an indigenous source of natural gas is critical for UK energy security, our economy, jobs and the environment.
“We are proud as a Lancashire company to be at the forefront of that effort.”
The company said it would begin drilling in August. The first borehole would be a pilot well to about 3,500 metres deep. Samples would be takenat various levels within the shale rock to decide where best to drill the horizontal wells.
The first two of four horizontal wells permitted at the site would then be drilled at depths of between 2,000m and 3,500m, the company said.
A spokesperson said:
“There is no precedent in the UK on how long the horizontal wells through the shale will take to drill however Cuadrilla currently estimates these will be completed before the end of 2017.”
Opponents of Cuadrilla’s activities said police escorted a large convoy into the Preston New Road site at about 4.15am today.
DrillOrDrop understands the rig was transported in sections in containers and will be constructed on site.
Cuadrilla’s original plan was for a 52m rig. But a condition of the planning permission, approved by Communities’ Secretary, Sajid Javid, in October 2016, was for a maximum height of 36m (more details).
Frack Free Lancashire
““We understand that early this morning, Lancashire Police facilitated Cuadrilla bringing in a mass convoy of equipment onto the site at Preston New Road, under the cover of darkness and in direct contravention of the planning conditions.”
“We note that Mr Egan has claimed this week that his project is “progressing to plan”. However, even if Cuadrilla have managed to get their drilling rig onto the site it is hard to see how they will be able to start drilling in the second quarter of 2017 (as their web site still claims under latest news), unless they have managed to get a time machine onto the site at the same time.
“It is abundantly clear that community protest has had a major impact on Cuadrilla’s attempts at making progress at this site and it will continue to do so.
“As Cuadrilla’s work on this site intensifies and its predicted impacts start to be felt, our protest will continue, as is our legal right.”
Lancashire For Shale
“Lancashire For Shale congratulates Cuadrilla on achieving this significant milestone in the journey to deliver a new source of natural gas supply for the UK and to ensure that Lancashire in particular benefits from the resultant opportunities, jobs and investment.
“It is time now for the national protesters to accept that shale gas exploration is a reality and necessary for our country’s energy security. They need to move on from their unnecessary protests and lock-ons, which are achieving nothing, except causing dismay and disruption to the local population.”
Friends of the Earth
“We have repeatedly heard about this supposed shale gas revolution, but so far the fracking industry has only stalled while opposition has increased.
“Despite the best efforts of the industry to convince us otherwise, two thirds of people in Lancashire are still against fracking. We know that it’s too late for it to even be viable as a bridging technology, and it is deeply unpopular because it will be a bad deal for Lancashire.
“Friends of the Earth is standing with the people of Lancashire to oppose fracking and call instead for investment in the industries of future – technologies that will bring jobs – and meet the challenge of climate change.
“Democracy hasn’t counted for much in Lancashire and we won’t just lie down and be a test case for an industry that has been stopped around the UK and the world due to the risks. A piece of machinery may be on site but the only thing that’s changed is opposition will get stronger as the community vows to keep fighting.”
Elisabeth Whitebread, energy campaigner, said:
“The arrival of a fracking drill in rural Lancashire marks a new stage in the industrialisation of our countryside for the shale gas we don’t need. In defiance of its promises on climate at the G20, and despite huge losses run up by the fracking industry to date, the UK is still doing all it can to push forward this unnecessary new fossil fuel industry.
“Lancashire said no to fracking, but the government overruled the democratic process and gave Cuadrilla the go ahead to frack for gas. The first drill may be going in, but the fracking firms know that their industry is on its last legs in the UK. The government should take a fresh look at this industry’s poor financial track record, listen to the public, stick to its international climate commitments and call an end to this dirty industry for good.”